The fact that the Boston Bruins powerplay is mostly useless has been as well kept a secret as Pittsburgh hosting the 2012 NHL All-Star game. The Bruins powerplay has been dissected here, and elsewhere ad nauseum. Something I haven’t seen, and wonder why not is what a former keystone of the Bruins powerplay brought that the current centers and top forwards don’t.

While Tyler Seguin is undoubtedly a faster skater, and more willing shooter than Marc Savard there is one important things he’s not. Patrice Bergeron is getting the lions share of powerplay time for the Bruins this year which has brought it well above the level it performed at over the playoffs, but neither he nor Sequin possess the trait that might just help get the Bruins into the top ten (or higher) powerplays in the leauge. Guess what, even though he’s capable of some nifty passes David Krejci, like Bergeron and Seguin is a right handed center.

Marc Savard is a lefty. While it’d be nice to get him back in the mix on a lot of counts, it’s unlikely it will happen soon. Than means the Bruins need to look at options other than Bergeron, Krejci and Seguin to be able to get shots and passes from the same angles as Savard provided. Rich Peverley who is irregularly slotted into the center position is a right handed shot as well. Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand are both lefties. Marchand while frequently listed as a center hasn’t taken regular shifts in that position while in a Boston uniform Kelly is a lot of things, most of them of high value to his club, but offensively explosive is not on the list. Zach Hamill while a solid passer is again a right handed shot, everyone else in the system is either two or more years from the NHL or injured.

Elsewhere in the NHL, there are a couple possibilities. Dale Tallon has shown a great deal of shyness in turning over the roster of the Florida Panthers. Stephen Weiss is a left handed center about the same size as David Krejci, is one of the last Panthers who is a legacy of the previous management, and has put up pretty solid numbers despite lacking talent around him.  His cap hit is more than manageable, but with his and the teams good start he might be reluctant to waive his no movement clause even to be reunited with Campbell and Horton even if it means moving to a slightly more hockey focused market.

The Colorado Avalanche have a great powerplay,  have some difficulty five on five, and possess two remarkably similar left handed centers. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are within about an inch of each other in height a couple pounds in weight, and produce similar results all across the stat sheet. The two biggest differences are in salary and age. Despite better goaltending this year, they are again in the bottom third of the league for goals against and penalty killing. A deal between Boston and Colorado that brought back one of these centers, and sent over a penalty killer should benefit both teams.

A possibility that has a few more faults built into it is a trade with the Capitals.  Washington is already a power house regular season team that has put a lot of work into adding players who get it in the playoffs as well. It is highly likely that head coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee could have the opportunity to explore new positions if the team can’t make it at least to the Stanley Cup finals, something the franchise has never done. For them, adding a player who has succeed not just against them, and won the Stanley Cup but led the NHL in post season points in David Krejci if he were exchanged for Brooks Laich. If that’s what McFee and Chiarelli decided on, the Bruins gain their left handed center, finally gain a top three center over 200 pounds, get a left handed player who plays in all situations (as Krejci has), and the Capitals gain a playoff performer, cap space and possibly gain the missing element needed to go deep in the playoffs.

The Bruins played a great first period putting shots on Ward early and often. Unfortunately Ward looks to be back in the form that helped the Hurricanes win a Stanley Cup a few years ago. The second period was mostly more of the same. Then things got ugly. Chara reacted to two members of the Hurricanes throwing punches at Nathan Horton playing in just his fifth game since getting cold cocked and being lost to a concussion by Aaron Rome.

Jeff Skinner continued the aggression he displayed against the man who won the Calder Trophy the year before. The nearly as large as Tyler Myers was lucky enough to have the calls made down the middle. Fair officiating being all any sane fan, player, official or league wants. The Bruins on the other hand were not. Chara was called for high sticking when the stick never made contact. Marchand was given a misconduct for pointing out there was no actual contact. Later the head coach would be tossed from the game for shaking his head at the announcement of a Milan Lucic misconduct that might have deserved a two minute roughing call.

On to the Bruins failures. I’ll leave the failures and faults of Paul Devorski and Wes McCauley to others. Bartkowski made it clear why he was out of the line up with a couple turnovers and ended up playing just 4:29. With Chara receiving one of the NHL’s near mythical instigator penalties, a misconduct and his five for fighting that left Boychuck, Corvo, Ference and Seidenberg to do the heavy lifting.

The lack of depth on the blueline lead to some overly cautious play. At any given point when the Bruins gained the offensive zone, the defense could be seen at least three or four feet outside the offensive zone. Given the aggressive play of the Carolina Hurricanes and their group speed this can be useful to contain chances or with inexperienced defensemen when trying to keep a lead, But of all four of them Boychuck who has played over two season in Boston plus the Stanley Cup run. At least four or five times a period the Bruins would send or lose a puck back to the blueline and only find lots and lots of space.

Next up was a lack of support along the boards. This was largely due to the defense being passive and highly defensive. But there were also breakdowns that saw the breakup of the top three lines as we knew them. By the end of the game Caron was skating with Bergeron and Marchand. Pouliot and Lucic had switched places by the start of the third. And Chris Kelly skated more than one shift, including the one just before his fight, with Milan Lucic on his wing.

Chris Kelly had a good fight, his first as a Bruin in the game. Jordan Caron had several good passes a nice hit and sweet dish to the crease right as the forward there was being cleared. The Bruins even got their second powerplay goal of the year with Peverley putting one past Ward from Corvo and Seidenberg. Amazingly despite the monster minutes both would play in a game that got ugly, neither Boychuck or Seidenberg were minus players.

Overall it was an ugly loss with several good things embedded in it. Despite multiple and successive five on threes the Bruins killed much of their interestingly acquired penalty time. Best of all they finally showed some life. Chara, Lucic on down to Kelly, Rask and the rest showed they are fully engaged, possibly for the first time this season. With luck this is the Dallas game the Bruins fused in last year.

For those wondering I asked what the last time a coach was tossed out of a game. Here’s the answer I got.

@ most recent one I can recall is Tortorella in Nov 2006
Kevin Gibson

A bit ago as the Bruins power play was lurching into the record books on their way to the Stanley Cup I mentioned how some of the problems of the powerplay were the mechanics, which are a tactical problem. In the off season after free agency was seven days settled into the hockey world and how Chiarelli had failed to fill the void, a strategic problem. Today we dig a tiny bit deeper and look at the  obvious yet most overlooked fault, the supply chain.

In the past five year the Boston Bruins have made 31 draft selections.  In the first two rounds, the rounds that make up most NHL players, they have selected ten players. Of the ten selections six have been centers. Two more defensemen and two right wings. One of those defensemen, Dougie Hamilton was not the player the Bruins were expecting to pick.

The current Bruins roster has; Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly, David Krejci, Greg Campbell, Rich Peverley, and Brad Marchand currently or formerly playing at center. That’s eight out of twelve forwards. As you’ll see on the ice, and on the stat sheet most of the Bruins centers are pass first, shoot later or pass, wait, pass, pass and then maybe shoot. In the past three seasons only one center has finished in the top five on the team for shots on goal. Most seasons every single center on the team finishes with an average below two shots on goal per game. The only Bruins center to finish above two hundred shots in a season is Patrice Bergeron.

With so few guys who think shot first on the ice and two, three and sometimes four of these eight centers on the ice during a powerplay it isn’t surprising that powerplay is so bad. Add in the fact that the one of them who is most likely to get a shot on net is generally out at the point where it is hardest to do so and you’re just compounding the problems.  As has been pointed out here, and elsewhere on the web and in print, the Bruins lack a top level goal scorer. Those are hard to come by, and a guy like Marian Hossa or Martin St Louis don’t come along often, they do hit the market. Just as Chiarelli reeled in Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard into a much, much less competitive team and managed to swindle the Florida Panthers out of Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell, it is well past time the he went out and got a high end goal scorer who can be relied upon to be a consistent 35+ goal scorer and even average defensively.

There are teams out there right now that are going to need to blow things up and start over. Detroit without Lidstrom is not a playoff team, the New Jersey Devils are staring down the barrel of the post Brodeur era, and while the Dallas Stars are on the rise again they are hardly a complete team. The Coyotes and Blue Jackets could both use prospects they don’t have to pay a great deal. The Calgary Flames have been run poorly for years and despite superlative talent in some players have both a thin roster and very weak prospect pool. Worse for the Flames, the end of Iginla reign as king of the town is if not imminent, then something that can’t be projected as more than three or four years off.  There is talent out there. Get the right piece of talent and the powerplay issue goes away.

If as Jimmy Murphy hints David Krejci is not able to make the trip to Carolina to take on Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tomas Kaberle, then it might be just what the doctor ordered to get the team going. No one likes seeing any key player going down but frankly the line Krejci has centered has had a negative impact through the first three games despite his goal.

A couple likely scenarios suggest themselves. The simplest being that Caron get’s added to the line up, and that the three remaining centers; Bergeron, Kelly and Campbell get extra shifts between Lucic and Horton to see who sparks who. Given how fast the Carolina line up, this would fit well with Julien’s penchant for leaving familiar players together until he’s sure something is either completely broken or the new thing is incomparably better.

Another interesting possibility that might well work is shifting Bergeron up between Lucic and Horton as he was when Krejci was out last season. I said then that I thought it was the best line the Bruins had iced since the days of the 700 lb line. If they got going again I don’t think think I’d have any reason to change my mind. This does leave the question of what to do with the other lines. Given how effective the Merlot Line has been, I don’t see splitting them up. So sliding Caron into the lineup possibly means moving the recently extended Rich Peverley to center, and giving Jordan “Tv38” Caron right wing  While leaving Seguin, Kelly, and Pouliot alone.  For me this is ideal as all four lines would have a good dose each of size, speed, and grit and none would be without some defensive reliability.

Still, we don’t know David Krejci will miss the game. So jumping to conclusions while fun, and the most exercise many get in a day may not be all that useful.

David Krejci left practice early with apparent leg injury and Claude Julien says he does not know if Krejci will be on plane to Carolina.
Jimmy Murphy

Day two opened with group B attacking the ice first. Lots of simulated game play. Rushes and drills almost the whole session.

Peverley, Hamill, Knight shined brightest among the forwards in the first session. Sauve and Caron were definitely noticeable with good body position on the powerplay/penalty kill drills.

Cheers at the beginning and breaks during sessions were warm. As group b did ended closing stretch

Chara - Peverley

Training Camp 2011

with Rich Peverley leading, the crowds cheering was as loud as you may hear during games in other markets.

Group a had a much crisper feel today. Colby Cohen looked good on defense, Kyle MacKinnon continued making himself known at forward. Alexander Khokhlachev showed a lot with hands, wheels and puck tracking. Nathan Horton appears 100% and is moving well. Jamie Arniel was a late cut last season and the first forward called up last season and looks like that’s not an acceptable turnout this year.

One time Jennings Trophy winner, reigning Conn-Smyth winner and two time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas got by far the biggest pop from the crowd when he walked on to the ice. The buzz lasted until he’d made his first lap. He moved well but like the other goalies isn’t in mid-season form yet.

The special teams drills in the second session were much more physical than the first session. Some of those dishing out the hot sauce were a surprising. Jamie Arniel and Tyler Seguin handed out some hits and shoves in addition to the warm welcome Thornton, Campbell and Paille greeting specialize in.

Training Camp 2011 1

special teams drill

Colby Cohen and Andy Ference were paired for all the drills and looked good. Cohen moves a lot better than some of the 200lb defensemen I’ve seen. It was notable that when Ference was working the penalty kill he was directing traffic for his unit even over the forwards who might spend a bit more time on the PK during the regular season.

One of the nice things about the practice was the huge number of fans there. At a guess it peaked at over 3000 fans. Quite a few of them clustered around the tunnel, and players stopped to autograph for several minutes. After shedding his gear from the early session the final piece of the Phil Kessel trade Dougie Hamilton returned to the tunnel mouth to sign autographs. he was there signing for at least twenty or thirty minutes.

Dougie Hamilton signing

Dougie Hamilton signing pics at Bruins camp 2011

It was a good show overall. In a similar manner to development camp there were players who stood out in a good way, but not more than one or two who didn’t look like they could compete for an NHL job either now or in the future. I do have a few favorites to make the team that I’ll share later in the week at forward where two or three players have elevated above the others. The defensemen have been a tighter knot and are a bit complicate by who was called up at some point last year and how they performed. The goalie situation I suspect will remain unchanged from last year.

Today I was on hand for the opening of training camp at the Boston Garden. The lobby held about 200 people at each the east and west entrance around nine, by about nine thirty five when the doors opened the number was closer to five hundred each side.

Among the most amusing occurrences was the repeated hush that came over the Garden when Claude Julien spoke. I’m not saying everyone stopped speaking but the volume level dropped to about 1/5th the average excited murmur. This happened each time he spoke in both the A and B groups.

Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were paired together on several rushes and drills in the second session. This struck me as an interesting paring that makes me wonder how likely we are to see the five players left from last years top two lines left in the same mix. One of the things that struck me about lines one and two last year was the lack of speed on one and the lack of size on the other. Nathan Horton was hands down the fastest skater on his line and he’s probably not going to be invited to the speed competition at the All Star game. Patrice Bergeron who probably only tips the scale at 200lbs when holding Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head was the largest player by several pounds on his line last year.

Zach Hamill had a solid day. He may have scored on one or two of the rushes, but I wasn’t tracking that quite as much as I would later in the year. What I did notice is he was one of the first forwards to deliver a hit along the boards in a drill. Moments later someone else returned the favor and he showed good strength on his skates staying upright and not shying away.

Tyler Seguin is visibly larger even from the stands. He looks to have filled out across the chest and shoulders. He did not appear to have lost a step in his skating. And yes, the puck bunnies and Tylerphiles were out in full force.

Ryan Spooner continued the trend he showed in this years dev-camp of not shying away from going at the larger (nearly everyone) players. At one point he attempted to skate through Zdeno Chara, physics intervened. On other rushes he had some dazzle.

David Krejci’s skating was some of the best I’ve seen from him. It will be interesting to see how he does entering the season healthy for the first time in recent years. Last year he started off with a bad wrist.  Going back a bit further was an entire season hobbled by a hip injury.

Overall the two sessions had a different flavor. The early session seemed more a “welcome to camp, try not go pull a groin” skate session with a couple drills. The later session had a few more drills and seemed to have more of the forwards who are either jostling for their position on the roster or fighting for an NHL job. Both were interesting, but for those going in with a small kids or new fans group B might prove more interesting of the trend continues.

Alexander Khokhlachev’s skating improved a bit from dev-camp and he may have managed to pack on a few pounds along with crossing over into adulthood about a week ago.  I suspect at least half of the  improved skating is freshness and not a junior season that ran almost directly into the development camp where divine sadist skating instructor Besa Tsintsadze ran him and others into the ice.

While I can’t think of anyone who looked bad there was one standout who looked to have come to camp with more oomph than many. Rich Peverley who was acquired at the deadline last spring and morphed into something of a binkie for Julien was hands down the sharpest looking player on the ice at either session. At one point or another in drills he sponsored equipment sales replete with items formerly belonging to Joe Corvo, Adam Mcquaid, Tuukka Rask and Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara. While practice, particularly the first of the year is just that, you can’t fail to notice he clearly set his mind on being a big part of the team this season.  As one of the ten Bruins contracts set to expire on July 1 it is no wonder he wants to make an even better impression this season than he did across his time in Boston last year.

For the first time in decades there are very few questions to be answered in terms of personnel on and off the ice. We have two time Vezina Trophy winner, and Conn Smyth holder Tim Thomas returning in goal with the well regarded Tuukka Rask backing him up. The defense is nearly as well stocked with the hulking Zdeno Chara and his oft overlooked but indispensable wing-man Dennis Seidenberg as the go to duo. Slated to return was are last years breakout defender Adam Mcquaid, the snarling wolverine to Chara’s loping wolf Andrew Ference, former AHL defenseman of the year and newlywed Johnny Boychuk. The well traveled Joe Corvo is the only new guy likely to be in the top six on October 6 when the banner goes up.  At forward Brad Marchand recently resigned and will almost certainly resume his “I Felt Like It.” behavior along side the teams best skater Patrice Bergeron, and leaving just one forward slot among the four lines in doubt.

With studs like Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner headlining the list of those who hope to turn pro this year, some might just pencil one of their names into the lineup and go back to counting down until the puck drops. That would be a mistake. The biggest question left after Marchand reupping and Savard being down checked for the season is where Seguin will play. This is the question that affects every other decision that will be made this year and going forward. If he is going to play at center going forward, for now that means the third line and likely with one or both Peverley and Kelly. If he’s going play at wing, he could still end up with last seasons late acquisitions, or he could slide up and join Marchand in flanking Bergeron. If he does, as some have speculated land next to the dynamic duo the question become what role the third line will take. If you’re expecting the lines centered by Bergeron and Krejci to carry a hefty percentage of the offense, the third line becomes a checking line by default.

If the third line is to be a checking line with Kelly and Peverley making up two thirds of it, then Pouliot is likely in the lead for the third spot on the line. Another option is to put a rookie who may not be ready to play in all situations on that line and use them sparingly while double shifting other forwards to leverage their capabilities. If that is the case the door is wide, wide open and the list goes well beyond Arniel, Caron, Suave, as front runners and allows for anyone such as Camper, Cunningham or Khokhlachev to blow the doors off management and earn a chance to grow into a well rounded player.

One of the other options that I haven’t seen talked about for Bergeron’s second winger is Peverley. Peverley was used in every situation and on every line during the playoffs last year. He’s a high end skater in both speed and agility, he’s a good passer and has even taken faceoffs on a regular basis. If he’s slotted in on the second line, the third line is possibly even more interesting. Pairing Seguin with Caron to fill out the line with Kelly gives a good amount of size, speed and skill and makes the Bergeron’s line even more effective as a two way production and scoring line. Seguin and Caron would be able to come along at a reasonable pace earning additonal ice timeand give each of them familiarity with a player likely to be in the organization a long time.

On defense the question of who is number seven is possibly more interesting. Steve Kampfer looked great for parts of his time prior to his injury last season, looked good at others, and looked entirely out of his depth on more than one occasion. Still, he played more time among the six defensemen put on the ice last year than any of the other options. David Warsovsky is a possibilty as he’s an offensive specialist and might be looked at to help improve the powerplay. Ryan Button intruiged me at prospect camp with his skating, reflexes and hands and shouldn’t be overlooked when taking notes the next couple weeks. Matt Bartkowski was the other semi-regular member of the Bruins defense last year. While his time wasn’t particularly impressive, it’s hard to lay that entirely at his skates as most of the game he played the club was mired in a funk that made the team painful to watch.

Given how little was done to address the powerplay from outside the team over the offseason, and the cap position of several teams don’t be surprised if the Bruins make a move or two between now and the start of the season. The Buffalo Sabres have heavily retooled since Terry Pegula took over, are currently well over the cap and a very dangerous team, the Calgary Flames are still in desperate need of a center who can stay within shouting range of Jarome Iginla as well. Not to be left off the list of teams yearning for a playoff spot are the recently uptooled Columbus BlueJackets and the Minnesota Wild. Columbus hasn’t made the playoffs in their history, and the Wild have not been in the post season the last two seasons.

There aren’t many questions to be asked about roster spots this year, but what questions there are will keep us all watching.

I pointed out one or two players recently I certainly didn’t want to see land in a Bruins uniform, there are some moves I’d really like. I’ll get to those free agent pickups in a moment, but the the bigger question is, do the Bruins really need to make any major moves to be as strong as they were last year, or stronger? Probably not. Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder combined for just thirty two goals last season, Kaberle added just one.  Its a reasonably safe bet Brad Marchand will re-sign.  It’s highly unlikely Marchand will spend a quarter of the year on the fourth line. Tyler Seguin put on some muscle, got a lot of experience, and played with just about everyone on the roster at some point last year. David Krejci will not be entering the season off of wrist surgery as he did last year. Johnny Boychuk will probably not have his arm broken, miss ten games and turn in the lowest goal total of his professional career.

If we go with conservative estimates for the increase of  these four players over last year, most of that difference will be made up.  Boychuk had as many goals in the 25 game playoff run as he did in the 69 times he suited up in the regular season.  David Krejci who ended the season with his lowest full regular season goal total was just one goal short of matching that in the playoffs. Between these two players we can safely estimate two additional goals for Boychuk,  and an additional five for Krejci which is still several goals below his best season.  I would be surprised a great deal if Seguin or Marchand increased their goal totals by less than six each.

Leaving aside production increases by any other players on the roster this is 19 goals.  Of the rest of the roster only Lucic and Thonton set career highs in goals. Chara, Bergeron, Horton, Peverley were all well below their career highs as well. With the odd goal that can be blamed on Tuukka’s knee the Bruins find themselves in pretty good shape. Based on this highly simplified math the Bruins need about 14 goals this season. If they fill both Ryder and Recchi’s slots with rookies (Arniel, Caron, Hamill, Knight, Spooner, Suave) its almost inconceivable that Julien and Co couldn’t squeeze seven goals out of any two of them.

I suspect that if the right UFA deal comes along, the Bruins will grab them. One of the cheif reasons for this is that its a “hard cap” this year with a players bonuses figured into their cap hit counted against the cap. Entry level deal like Seguin’s, any of the players mentioned above would actually leave less available cap space than signing a player like Chris Drury to a $2million deal for the season. Another concern has to be victory disease. Even throwing out the ups, downs, travel, illnesses, and injuries of last season just wining the Cup and the summer of celebration has got to be both exhausting and undermining to motivation. What more can Tim Thomas have to prove? Rich Peverley was undrafted and two goals against a Vezina finalist in the Stanley Cup Finals. Chris Kelly went from the a lottery team to the promised land in less than fifty games. Adding in a hungry veteran either by free agency also allows them to be moved closer to the deadline be it for picks, prospects or other players.

Before the games started their were dozens of  questions. When an infraction that is the NHL’s sworn responsibility to eliminate silenced the crowd, all the other questions went away and two new ones arose in their place. The first is how much damage was done to Nathan Horton by Aaron Rome’s headshot. The second was how do the Bruins respond. The hit for those who haven’t seen it is graphic, don’t play it if it will disturb you.

When Rome was ejected, and the Bruins failed to finish on six shots during the ensuing five minute major, one of those questions was answered in the minds of some viewers. The first period ended. The second period was the answer. In that period the Bruins took physical and emotional control. Ference blasted a shot from the point to open the even strength scoring. Mark Recchi followed up with a powerplay goal for the second one in two games. When the Bruins went on the penalty kill, they may have been out numbered but clearly the Canucks were outmanned as Brad Marchand went from his own blueline to poke the puck away, across the ice to recapture it and then crossed over in front of Luongo scoring from almost directly below the faceoff dot back across his own body. David Krejci would add another even strength goal.

The third period would see the second shorthanded goal of the night, this time Boychuck to Paille with a blooper past Bobby Lou at the tail end of the type of rush coaches dream of their penalty killers making. The Bruins would receive a small shock when Hansen scored to breathe life into the Canucks. Various forms of shenanigans would follow with Burrows, Lucic, Kesler, Seidenberg, Chara, Torres, D Sedin would all earn penalties before the game was over. But before the final horn the Bruins would add another Recchi goal, one by Kelly and a powerplay goal from Ryder for the second of the game.

One hundred fifty five penalty minutes in the game, many of them matching. The vaunted Vancouver powerplay not only went zero for eight, while giving up two shorthanded goals. While the twelve shots might seem a solid showing, the Canucks had two powerplays where they failed to record even a shot. The ruins had just four powerplays on the night but converted on fifty percent of them.

On the birthday if number 8 “Bam Bam Cam”, the guys on the ice would give club president Cam Neely the best gift they could.  Nathan Horton is said to be alert at the hospital, but will be kept overnight for observation. Good luck Nathan, get healthy, and don’t lose your smile.